Idaho Abortion Ban’s Devastating Impact on Emergency Medical Care for Physicians

On April 24, the Supreme Court will consider whether Idaho politicians have the authority to prevent doctors from providing emergency medical care to patients experiencing pregnancy complications, a case that could pave the way for other states to restrict access to emergency reproductive care and undermine healthcare infrastructure nationwide. Politicians have once again initiated proceedings that could have far-reaching consequences for a doctor’s ability to provide essential reproductive healthcare and for pregnant women’s ability to receive it.

I’m a family physician who has been practicing medicine in rural Idaho for more than 20 years, where I’ve had the privilege of assisting hundreds of patients throughout their pregnancies. It’s no exaggeration to say that our state’s healthcare system is in crisis, largely due to our near-total abortion ban. Rather than attempting to salvage what remains, Idaho politicians now seek to accelerate our decline, making it increasingly difficult for physicians like myself to provide care to patients in need. I can only hope that the Court will recognize that this case is about more than just abortion; it is about the future of emergency and medical care in general.

Rural healthcare has always faced challenges, but in the nearly two years since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the situation has worsened significantly. In Idaho, we’ve lost of our obstetricians since the state’s abortion ban went into effect—colleagues and friends who entered medicine to help people are being forced out of obstetrics in our state. They recognized that it was impossible to provide adequate care while being subject to the whims of politicians who prioritize their extremist agenda over the health of their constituents.

Idaho’s abortion ban criminalizes nearly all abortions and provides no exception for cases where the patient’s health is in danger. The ban only allows abortions when a doctor determines that they are necessary to prevent the pregnant person’s death. Consult any doctor, and they will confirm that this “exception” raises more questions than it answers.

Emergency abortions are required by patients in a variety of situations, including to address life-threatening miscarriages. However, the ban lacks a clear legal definition of what constitutes an emergency or when we can intervene. As a result, physicians—operating under the threat of prosecution—are forced to proceed with extreme caution.

“Can I replace her blood loss quickly enough? How many organs must fail? How close to death must a patient be before I can intervene, minutes or hours?” These are the heartless questions that doctors are now compelled to consider while our patients rely on us to prioritize their needs and act in their best interests.

Pregnant patients are forced to make repeated trips to the emergency room as a result, only to be told time and time again that nothing can be done until their complications worsen. Consider the scenario of a loved one with a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit being informed that no treatment is available until it reaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit and their organs begin to fail. It is neither sound medical practice nor humane to force patients to reach the point of no return before receiving care, and it will only worsen as long as we allow extremism rather than science to dominate our statehouses and dismantle our safe system of care.

Furthermore, it violates a long-standing federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which mandates that hospitals treat emergencies before they become life-threatening. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Idaho shortly after the state’s abortion ban went into effect for precisely this reason. The lawsuit simply argues that Idaho must permit doctors to perform abortions in medical emergencies when it is the standard stabilizing treatment, but even this was unacceptable to state leaders.

Idaho politicians have instead escalated their legal battle with the DOJ to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decision will have far-reaching consequences for the entire country. Anti-abortion politicians nationwide will be given the green light to deny essential abortion care, drive providers out of states where prosecutors can scrutinize decisions made with their patients, and perpetuate this cycle of inhumanity toward patients if the Court rules that federal law no longer protects pregnant people during emergencies.

As Idaho demonstrates, policies driven by anti-abortion extremism jeopardize healthcare for everyone. This attack on abortion has extended beyond abortion itself, jeopardizing additional rights and healthcare services, including emergency medical care.

It must end.

Federal law has guaranteed patients’ access to necessary emergency care, including in cases of pregnancy complications, for nearly 40 years. The Supreme Court must uphold this law and ensure that pregnant individuals continue to receive the care they require when they need it most. The health of my patients in West Central Idaho—and millions of other Americans across the country—deserve nothing less.